Dong's personal statement brings awareness to the fact that the eyeball test is important. Geographical splits like rivers and mountains can be just as important as political subdivisions. He also obtained interesting feedback from the local mayor on how to orient their town with nearby Pittsburgh.
When constructing my election map, the two things I wanted to focus on were equal population and contiguity.
I think that American politics is in a really weird and scary place right now (or maybe it’s always been that way and I’ve just noticed it). The recent presidential election and the ongoing pandemic has shown that a lot of Americans have a deep distrust in their government. Somehow, politics felt like they got even more partisan and rifts between people became bigger and harder to cross. The last thing I wanted Pennsylvanians to feel when they saw my map was more distrust and more division. So my goal was to make the map look visually appealing at a glance while maintaining an equal population in each county. To achieve this, I tried to make each district square or rectangular in order to convey a sense of normality that people wouldn’t get angry over, while trying to keep the deviation as low as possible. I also tried to keep district lines on rivers and away from the center of cities or towns in order to avoid splitting them in half. However, when I got to major, heavily populated areas like Pittsburgh and especially Philadelphia, I couldn’t manage to keep a nice shape while keeping deviation just as low as less populated districts. I decided to prioritize an equal population, since I thought that reassuring people that I’m not valuing a certain type of voter more than the other held more importance.
I am dissatisfied with Pittsburgh’s bowl-like shape, but I do have some reasoning behind it. Some time ago, I attended a Q&A session with Aliquippa’s mayor, and he mentioned that, although it was somewhat controversial, he wanted the city of Aliquippa to be more closely related to the Pittsburgh area. It’s not such an important factor that it should have pulled the Pittsburgh district in such a strange shape, but it made it into the final version of the map anyway.